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Calling on the Composer. A Guide to European Composer Houses and Museums
Intended as a music lovers' guide to museums, and to the homes and workplaces of composers, Calling on the Composer reminds us how unevenly great composers and their memorials are distributed across Europe. Sixteen maps display the evidence. No such museums or memorials exist in Portugal, only two in Denmark, three in Estonia, three in Norway, and six in Spain. Of course, there is an abundance to be enjoyed in Austria, Germany and Italy, ensuring that a total of more than three hundred houses and museums, birthplaces and deathplaces now exist to commemorate composers associated with them. Here are all of the houses most of us know about, including Mendelssohn's at Leipzig, Beethoven's at Bonn and elsewhere (nine pages are devoted to Beethoven), Elgar's at Broadheath, and Handel's house in London. Co-author Stanley Sadie served as the founding administrator, and later as director, of the Handel House Museum project, making the guide particularly authoritative.
Notwithstanding the 'European' in the title, the book's scope extends to Russia. Several pages are devoted to the commemoration of Tchaikovsky in Moscow and the Ukraine. An entry is included for Stravinsky's summer home at Ustyluh. There is no commemoration at Stravinsky's birthplace, now called Lomonosov. The dacha in which he was born in 1882 was pulled down to make way for an electricity substation!
Several of the composers listed here will be unknown to all but the most well-informed music-lover. Nevertheless, part of the delight of this book is that attention is drawn to musicians such as the Erkel family in south-eastern Hungary, the Prague-born composer Hans Krása, or the Pole Karol Kurpiñski. No Glinka museum exists at Glinka, no Saint-Saëns one at Saint-Saëns, while Guido d'Arezzo is not celebrated at Arezzo. Having found out about Arezzo by going there, it's reassuring for me to learn that the authors did the same!
Calling on the Composer also highlights some regrettable neglect. For instance, how can Merthyr Tydfil Council open a memorial cottage to Joseph Parry, composer of Blodwen, 'the first Welsh opera', while the City of Bradford continues to neglect Frederick Delius? If only steps could be taken to remedy that omission. Maybe the Lord Mayor of Bradford should receive a copy?
John Robert Brown
An edited version of this review appeared in Classical Music magazine, 17th February 2007. Reproduced by kind permission.
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